Civil rights pioneer Claudette Colvin, who refused to give up bus seat, seeks to expunge record

Colvin's legal team told CNN it plans to file paperwork to have the now-82-year-old woman's 1955 arrest record cleared.

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Claudette Colvin, who was arrested at the age of 15 for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus to a white person, is now asking for her arrest record to be expunged. 

A legal team representing Colvin told CNN it plans to file paperwork to have the now-82-year-old woman’s record cleared. 

In this March 2020 photo, civil rights pioneer Claudette Colvin speaks onstage during the 2020 Embrace Ambition Summit in New York City. (Photo: Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Tory Burch Foundation)

Colvin was arrested in March 1955, and charged with two misdemeanor counts of violating the city’s segregation ordinance and one felony count of assaulting a police officer. CNN obtained a copy of the arrest record, which noted that “There were two colored females sitting opposite two white females, that refused to move to the back with the rest of the colored.”

“Claudette Colvin, age 15, colored female, refused,” states the 1955 record. “We then informed Claudette that she was under arrest.”

According to an NPR report, Colvin was convicted in juvenile court and placed on probation. However, she never received notice that her probation was completed. 

“I am an old woman now,” Colvin said in a sworn statement. “Having my records expunged will mean something to my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And it will mean something for other Black children.”

Colvin was arrested for refusing to give up her seat in Montgomery more than nine months before Rosa Parks, but she was not regarded as a model case for a citywide boycott and has gone largely unrecognized as a civil rights pioneer. Parks went on to be proclaimed as the “mother of the Modern Civil Rights Movement.”

At the age of 20, Colvin moved out of the state of Alabama. Yet, according to reports, she and her family lived in fear of what would happen if she ever returned due to her unclear probationary status. 

“Her family has lived with this tremendous fear ever since then,” said Colvin’s attorney, Phillip Ensler. “For all the recognition of recent years and the attempts to tell her story, there wasn’t anything done to clear her record.”

Ensler said the documents he plans to file this week will seek to seal, destroy and erase records of Colvin’s case. 

Colvin and her attorney noted that her “murky” probationary status cast a shadow over her life and impacted her family. “My conviction for standing up for my constitutional right terrorized my family and relatives, who knew only that they were not to talk about my arrest and conviction because people in town knew me as ‘that girl from the bus,'” Colvin asserted.

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